Stand Up To Cancer Funds AI Research, Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Research Fellows Announced, and more

Barry Paw, MD, PhD

Remembering Barry Paw (1961-2017)

Barry Paw, MD, PhD, a principal investigator and pediatric oncologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, died on December 28, 2017, at the age of 56.

Dr. Paw’s research focused on the developmental biology of red blood cell differentiation. He was part of a team that used zebrafish as a model to identify mutations that cause anemia, which led to discoveries in human blood disorders, including sideroblastic anemia, erythropoietic protoporphyria, and Diamond-Blackfan anemia.

Dr. Paw received many awards throughout his career, including the William Randolph Hearst Young Investigator Award in 2002, the Basil O’Connor Scholar Award from the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and the Young Investigator President’s Award from the International BioIron Society in 2005.

In addition to his impressive work, Dr. Paw is remembered as a dedicated mentor. “He always viewed the development of his mentees as an essential part of his scientific legacy, perhaps just as important as the seminal discoveries that he spearheaded,” said Jeffrey Cooney, a former student of Dr. Paw, who is pursuing an MD/PhD at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital news release, January 4, 2018.

James F. Holland, MD

Remembering James F. Holland (1925-2018)

James F. Holland, MD, a pioneer in developing clinical trial protocols for leukemia treatment, died on March 22, 2018, at the age of 92.

Dr. Holland was a distinguished professor of neoplastic diseases in the Department of Medicine at the Tisch Cancer Institute of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Dr. Holland joined the National Cancer Institute in 1953, at a time when cancer was largely thought to be incurable. He began researching clinical trial design and compared continuous or intermittent treatment with methotrexate and 6-mercaptopurine for acute leukemia. This trial represented the first multicenter study of chemotherapy for cancer and led to the formation of the Acute Leukemia Group B (which later became the Cancer and Leukemia Group B, now part of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology). It also served as a clinical trial prototype for incorporating eligibility and exclusion criteria, pre-study testing, a randomization scheme, a central review of morphology, measures for supportive care, and detailed criteria for treatment response.

In addition, the trial results laid the groundwork for using combination chemotherapy to treat and potentially cure about 90 percent of acute lymphocytic leukemia cases. The multi-drug approach is now used in countless other diseases, including lymphoma and colorectal, breast, and lung cancers. Dr. Holland and colleagues also developed the 7+3 treatment regimen (3 daily injections of daunorubicin and 7 days of intravenous cytarabine), a schedule that is still a standard to treat acute myeloid leukemia.

In 1962, Dr. Holland was elected chair of the Cancer and Leukemia Group B, and, under his leadership, the group expanded its research scope to include other pediatric neoplasms, metastatic carcinoma in adults, and adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Dr. Holland served as president of the American Association for Cancer Research in 1970 and was awarded the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 1972 for his contributions to the concept and application of combination therapy in the treatment of pediatric acute leukemia.

Dr. Holland’s wife, Jimmie C. Holland, MD, who was the founder of the field of psycho-oncology, passed away in December 2017. The Hollands are survived by six children and many grandchildren.

Source: The Washington Post, January 22, 2018.

Limin Gao, MD, PhD

Remembering Limin Gao (1974-2018)

Limin Gao, MD, PhD, an associate member of the American Society of Hematology, died on January 27, 2018, at the age of 43 from complications related to cancer.

Dr. Gao had just completed her hematology/oncology training at the Tufts Medical Center and had signed a contract with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center when she was diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer in the spring of 2017.

Dr. Gao grew up in China and earned her doctoral degrees in the U.S, where she also completed her medical residency.

“We were honored to be her coworkers and friends in Boston during our oncology training,” her colleagues from Tufts Medical Center wrote. “It is a senseless loss for her future patients who would have benefited tremendously from her brilliance, compassion, and care.”

Dr. Gao is survived by her husband, Sean (Chuanshen) Gao, who is completing his residency in New York, and two young children.

Source: GoFundMe, accessed at

MD Anderson Cancer Center Receives $22.3 Million for Cancer Research

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center $22.3 million to support cancer research. The awards include $16.3 million for individual, investigator-initiated research, including work in the fields of pediatric cancer, computational biology, clinical translation, and prevention and early detection. The remaining funds will support recruitment efforts and an award recognizing work in the prevention of colorectal cancer.

The investigators receiving this funding are studying cancer biology, genetics, epidemiology, and approaches to treatment, including inhibiting oxidative phosphorylation in leukemia.

Source: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center news release, February 21, 2018.

Stand Up To Cancer Funds Research Into Artificial Intelligence and Immunotherapy

Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) announced a “Convergence 2.0” research initiative that is awarding $11 million to seven multidisciplinary research teams that are investigating the use of artificial intelligence to further their immunotherapy research.

The program is supported in part by Microsoft, and each team will have access to the company’s experts in machine learning and artificial intelligence. This will allow SU2C researchers to use multiple data sets, including information on the patient’s genome, imaging studies, and medical and medication records to study the immune system’s response to cancer. These data will then be analyzed to identify factors such as DNA mismatch repair, tumor-specific proteins, cytokine function, and natural killer cells that may affect how a patient’s disease responds to treatment.

Each research team will be comprised of experts in life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

“Our first convergence research cohort, announced in 2016, established the effectiveness of a broad multidisciplinary approach for creating models for how cancer grows and reacts to treatment,” said Arnold J. Levine, PhD, chair of the SU2C Convergence Initiative, co-vice chairman of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee, and professor emeritus of the Institute for Advanced Study. “Through the collaboration with Microsoft and using well characterized, de-identified patient data, we will look at how individuals vary in their immune responses to an array of therapies.”

Source: Stand Up To Cancer press release, January 30, 2018.

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Announces Newest Research Fellow Recipients

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation named 15 new Damon Runyon Fellows; the recipients of this four-year award are post-doctoral scientists conducting basic and translational cancer research in the labs of leading senior investigators in the U.S. The Fellowship encourages young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing $231,000 in project funding.

This year’s fellows who are working within hematologic malignancies include:

Aleksey Chudnovskiy, PhD
  • Aleksey Chudnovskiy, PhD, with his sponsor Gabriel D. Victora, PhD, at The Rockefeller University, is studying “antigen presentation,” where a heterogeneous group of immune cells mediate the cellular immune response by processing and presenting antigens for recognition by certain lymphocytes such as T cells. This work aims to help develop successful immunotherapies.
Christopher P. Lapointe, PhD
  • Christopher P. Lapointe, PhD, with his sponsor Joseph Puglisi, PhD, at Stanford University School of Medicine, is studying how regulation that originates at the “tail” end of a messenger RNA affects the start of translation. He hopes to reveal and analyze underlying pathways to control gene expression.
Esen Sefik, PhD
  • Esen Sefik, PhD, with her sponsor Richard A. Flavell, PhD, at Yale University, is examining the connection between obesity, cancer, and the microbiome. She will analyze how a high-fat diet and obesity-associated intestinal bacteria change intestinal immunity in mice with the human immune system and microbiota.
Christina M. Termini, PhD
  • Christina M. Termini, PhD, with her sponsor John P. Chute, MD, at the University of California, Los Angeles, is studying how pre-transplant radiation affects stem cell repopulation following hematopoietic cell transplantation. She hopes to identify molecular targets that can be used to accelerate patient recovery following transplantation.
Linda T. Vo, PhD
  • Linda T. Vo, PhD, with her sponsor Jeff A. Bluestone, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, is studying T cell–based cancer immunotherapy as a transformative therapeutic approach. Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) have the capacity to generate any cell type and may be clinically useful, and, using a novel strategy to promote the continuous generation of T-cell progenitors from PSCs, Dr. Vo will engineer T cells with improved tumor-recognition capability from stem cells.
Jing Lin Xie, PhD
  • Jing Lin Xie, PhD, with her sponsor Daniel F. Jarosz, PhD, at Stanford University, is focused on uncovering mutation-independent mechanisms of drug resistance in cancer. Her goal is to identify and characterize the heritable “molecular memories” that can confer a fitness advantage during future exposure to chemotherapeutics and other stresses.

The Foundation also named six new recipients of the Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists, which provides additional funding to those completing a Damon Runyon Fellowship Award who have been deemed most likely to make paradigm-shifting breakthroughs that transform the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. Each awardee receives $100,000 to be used toward their research. The recipients who are working within hematologic malignancies include:

This year’s fellows who are working within hematologic malignancies include:

Liron Bar-Peled, PhD
  • Liron Bar-Peled, PhD, Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California
    Bar-Peled’s research focuses on understanding how cells sense and respond to specific changes in their environment by activating singling pathways that lead to uncontrolled growth.
Matthew P. Miller, PhD
  • Matthew P. Miller, PhD, University of Washington in Seattle
    Miller is investigating how cells ensure the correct partitioning of genetic material during cell division. His research is focused on elucidating the mechanisms of both accurate and defective chromosome segregation.
Shruti Naik, PhD
  • Shruti Naik, PhD, The Rockefeller University in New York
    Naik is investigating the interaction among the immune system, microbes, and adult skin tissue stem cells. Her goal is to understand how inflammatory signals provide adult stem cells with rapid, sensitive, and context-specific information, and how this process can potentially predispose stem cells to cancer.
Neel H. Shah, PhD
  • Neel H. Shah, PhD, University of California, Berkeley
    Shah seeks to identify new activities and modes of regulation that distinguish oncogenic and non-oncogenic tyrosine kinases, with the goal of identifying more specific drug targets.

Source: Damon Runyon Foundation press release, February 5, 2018.